Navigating my intersectional identity through the brown community
Intersectionality and me
When I was first asked to write this piece about myself, I didn’t want to write another story with the same narrative of a straight cisgender South Asian diasporic girl struggling with “straight cisgender South Asian diasporic girls” problems because that narrative doesn’t fit many of us who experience different types of oppression from our own community due to other factors that define our individual identity. Intersectionality in fact, refers to this exact concept that within a particular group who shares a common identity, there are intragroup differences which cause oppression.
For example, as an Italian- born Bengali and a bisexual creative, who’s been struggling with mental health from a very young age, I’ve often felt oppressed, shunned and ridiculed by my own people. And the same people dare to scream and preach about being a tightknit and supportive community, where everyone calls each other “bhai” (brother) or “bon” (sister). But where does that sense of community and brotherhood/ sisterhood go when you’re a little different from the norm? Individuals who deviate from the stereotypes are often received with negative and damaging comments, disrespectful behaviour and overall go through not-so-great experiences. This has personally made it hard for me to express myself and find a way to navigate through my community.
Intersectional identity- sexual orientation
One aspect of my intersectional identity that I struggle to open up about in my community is my sexual orientation. Around the age of 17-18 I began to learn about the LGBTQIA+ community through one of my high school friends, and soon after I had realised that I identified as bisexual, as in someone who is attracted to the gender the same as your own, AND to other genders. My coming out was initially received as a joke, even though I was pretty serious about it. My boyfriend at the time, who was also South Asian, had completely dismissed and ridiculed this part of me by trying to convince me I was just “Bi-curious” when in fact I have always been attracted to both men and women. I had always known, but only managed to acknowledge it and give it a label in my late teens so for him to completely invalidate my experience was soul crushing. On top of that any other person I’ve told would always ask very personal and invasive questions about my sex life which for men, especially South Asian men, is almost a way to sexualise us even more. It’s so odd to me that my sexual orientation is either completely dismissed or becomes such an intrigue that it defines everything that I am, a hypersexual object.
And not to mention the constant gaslighting, microaggression and insensitive jokes I’ve heard in my own family that are anti-queer (and anti-black, but that’s a whole other thing!) which are tiring and truly damaging. On many occasions I’ve had to dilute myself or act normal/ “less queer” to fit heteronormative ideals, but I’m so sick of that now. I understand that most of our families are traditional and won’t understand why this hurts us, but I’ve learnt that I have the power to choose my family now. As most queer people end up doing, I’ve created my own support system, a chosen family that embraces me as me. I’ve talked about this before and I’m very grateful for mine, and it feels reassuring to see other brown womxn experiencing this including @vishakhamallya @jasl.en and @spacelordnova, whom I look up to whenever I feel alienated or misunderstood.
Intersectional identity- mental health
I’m very open about my mental health on my Instagram but it’s not as easy with family or other people in the South Asian community. As someone who suffers from a number of different things, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, body dysmorphia and some mild form of schizophrenia I seem to have triggered during lockdown earlier this year, it’s completely invalidating when I’m told that all of this is “just in my head” or “what are YOU stressed about?”, implying that I’m too young to know what stress is. The older generation in particular finds it so hard to believe that mental health issues are a thing and that their negative remarks about our appearance affect us in any way. Adding this to an already twice marginalised group, us queer brown folks are left to feel even more alienated in our own culture. There is so much resistance towards accepting mental health and absolutely no support is given which makes it even harder for intersectional individuals to navigate and exist in brown spaces.
Intersectional identity- creative career
The last aspect of my intersectional identity that I want to address is my occupation. For many brown creatives, our career choices are seen as inferior, easy and useless. Anyone who’s in the preferred fields like medical, engineering or law, feel the need to look down on us and expect free work. The sheer disappointment and confusion from the elder generations is incredible. My own dad used to tell me to go into banking, knowing damn well I’ve never done anything related to banking or shown any interest in anything but creative subjects. It really diminishes my confidence and my identity as a creative and makes me feel as though I’m the black sheep of the family (literally no one in my extended family is in the creative field!). My mom constantly compares me to others my age who are doing non-creative subjects and it’s really not helpful for my mental health. However, I’ve been able to find support online thanks to other brown creatives around the world, even though there’s not a lot of us, visibility matters and it’s validating to see our people creating platforms for us. I’ve also been fortunate to start interning for @fangirl_wrld, a platform dedicated and inspired by marginalised groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community and the Black community. As a creative assistant there I’ve been able to express myself creatively and feel part of a very accepting and inclusive team. This led me to feel more confident about my career choice and makes me proud of my intersectional identity.
To sum everything up, being queer, creative and suffering from mental health issues is already hard on its own but it’s even harder when you’re from an already oppressed and marginalised community. I’ve had to hide parts of me, my sexuality, my mental health, my body and my career and still do because it’s deemed as inappropriate or unacceptable in my own culture. It’s in these times that I realise the love from our community is often conditional. You will be loved, praised and accepted ONLY if you are exactly what they want you to be. That there, is our so-called community and family.
Something that the South Asian community should know now is that YOU are not my brothers, you are not my sisters, you are not MY family, if you cannot accept me or respect me as I am… A queer brown creative video vixen who’s mentally unstable.
Asa Zaman is a 21 year old visual arts student and creative assistant based in London. You can follow her @pink._.sockedhoe or her creative work @asazaman_archive.
Preferred pronouns: She/her.